Indian police ban Masses in parish amid language dispute

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Jan 19 13:03:57 UTC 2007

Indian police ban Masses in parish amid language dispute

By T.S. Thomas 1/18/2007 UCANews

JAKKALLI, India (UCAN)  Authorities of a diocese in southern India seem to
be despairing after a dispute over liturgical language led to the
suspension of religious services in a parish. Bishop Thomas Vazhappilly of
Mysore says he feels helpless as Kannada and Tamil Catholics from Mother
of God Parish in Jakkalli remain adamant about their positions. The parish
is 75 kilometers (about 50 miles) east of Mysore, an ancient city in
Karnataka state that is about 2,200 kilometers (about 1,365 miles) south
of New Delhi. Police banned religious activities in the parish after
members of the two groups clashed on Dec. 25. Bishop Vazhappilly told UCA
News on Jan. 15 that police cited law-and-order problems for suspending
religious services.

Earlier, on Dec. 13, a local court upheld Tamil Catholics' right to have
Masses in their language and ordered the Kannada group and the diocese not
to interfere. The Tamil group went to court in November after the diocese
insisted, on July 9, that the parish follow the diocesan policy of
conducting Sunday Masses only in Kannada, but with one reading and two
hymns in Tamil. Tamils have boycotted Mass since the directive was issued.
Bishop Vazhappilly says the issue came to the fore after the Kannada
Sangha (union) organized demonstrations demanding that the parish use
Kannada in liturgical services. Most members of the forum, which espouses
Kannada causes, are Hindus.

The prelate, a native of neighboring Kerala state, observed that diocesan
priests from both sides also have fueled the controversy. The church "can
do very little in the matter" unless the court case is withdrawn, he said.
Tamil leaders, however, said they would not withdraw the case unless the
diocese provides at least one Tamil Mass each Sunday. Philip Paul Kumar,
secretary of Tamil Catholic Sangha, says his group has no problem with
Kannada for weekday Masses and the main Mass on Sunday. What they do not
appreciate, according to Kumar, is having Masses in which both languages
are used.

Father K.A. William, the diocesan chancellor, told UCA News the dispute
went "beyond religious boundaries" after "outside elements" took over. Now
the police and the court are involved, he continued, and the diocese is in
a "helpless position." Father William, from Mangalore in southwestern
Karnataka, said the parish's ethnic divide became serious last Easter,
after some Tamil leaders expressed resentment over a decoration that had
"Glory to the Risen Christ" written in Kannada. He blamed the Christmas
incident on drunken youths.

Bishop Vazhappilly insisted that he is not in a position to introduce
Tamil Masses. "If I introduce Tamil Mass in Jakkalli, many other parishes
would raise this demand," he explained, adding that the Tamil Catholics
have been pressuring him by boycotting church services. Several Tamil
parishioners told UCA News they are not happy with the situation. One of
them, Gnana Prakash, commented, "Now the police and political parties have
taken over the church and we are out." Kumar maintained that his group
approached the bishop more than 10 times to resolve the issue before they
petitioned the court to demand restoration of Tamil Masses in the parish.

Following the court order, the parish resumed its earlier practice of
conducting the first Mass in Kannada and the second in Tamil. On Dec. 24
and 25, Masses were conducted in both languages in the presence of police.
On Dec. 25, the police left the parish by 3 p.m. but had to rush back
three hours later after youths from the two groups clashed at a Christmas
bash. David Vincent, a Tamil parishioner, says the diocese has not tried
seriously to resolve the problem, treating it as a local issue. "More than
350 families had stayed away from the parish church for six months, but no
one took the initiative to bring us back to the church," he lamented. Many
of them point out, however, that the dispute has not forced them to leave
their Catholic faith. "Instead we have strengthened our faith and prayer
life, as we feel helpless. Only Jesus can save us now," said housewife
Mathalai Mary.


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